Friday, November 09, 2012

Colonial Regimes Varied Greatly, Even Within the Same Colonial System

ANC Today
October 26-November 1, 2012

VIEWPOINT | BY Pallo Jordan

Colonial regimes varied greatly, even within the same colonial system

A lengthy article in the "Sunday Independent" (Sunday, 7th October 2012) from the pen of Moeletsi Mbeki invites critical engagement. Mbeki charges that instead of radically restructuring their national economies and redesigning them to serve their own national interest, unlike their Asian counterparts, the post- colonial African political elites have chosen to adapt to the extractive economies the colonial powers created. African elites have been content to siphon off a fraction of the wealth produced for self-enrichment and the pursuance of an ostentatious lifestyle.

In contrast, driven by fear of "Communism", Asian elites broke the mould of the extractive colonial economy, re-structured their national economies, invested heavily in education, in health, in the social upliftment of their populations and stimulated the emergence of a stratum of "native" entrepreneurs who have since flooded international markets with durable consumer goods ranging from cell-phones to automobiles.

Asia is the largest continent on earth, covering nearly 60% (sixty per cent) of the earth`s surface. There are 57 (fifty seven) states on that continent and its population accounts for more than 60% (sixty percent) of the world`s population. The land mass stretches from the island of Cyprus in the west, to the Kurile Islands in the east - not a continent one could easily generalise about. Mbeki tests our credulity when he conflates an impoverished Afghanistan with the first -world economy of Japan, both of which are in Asia. A China developing with breathtaking speed shares the continent with a stagnating Pakistan and Bangla Desh. It is wise to avoid generalisations that are so wide ranging.

When Frantz Fanon turned his attention to the bourgeoisie in the colonies he characterised it as a class with:

"Neither financiers, nor industrial magnates are to be found within this national middle class . The national bourgeoisie of under-developed countries is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labour; it is completely canalized into activities of the intermediary type. ... The psychology of the national bourgeoisie is that of the businessman, not that of a captain of industry ;..."

The broad strokes of Fanon`s brush conceal the reality that post-colonial elites are the product of specific historical circumstances and are consequently rarely alike. French colonialism in Algeria differed decidedly from French colonialism in Senegal. Even compared with neighbouring Tunisia, Algeria`s white settler regime made for an elite that differed radically.

Moeletsi Mbeki`s too wants to treat all colonial societies and all colonial regimes as the same. Yet, closer scrutiny reveals that colonial regimes varied greatly, even within the same colonial system; even on the same continent!

European colonialism in Asia usually did not dismantle previously existing modes of production.* European powers chose to graft their own extractive economies onto what they found. In Africa, outside North Africa, colonial regimes completely dismantled previously existing indigenous modes of production. In countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Algeria, to destroy the indigenous mode of production the colonising power seized the land from the colonised and parcelled it out amongst settlers from Europe.

In other parts of the continent, the colonial powers were content to impose taxes and other exactions to impress peasants into their service, but permitted sufficient peasant farming for elements of pre-colonial modes of production to linger on. This relationship, the subject of intense discourse, in which Moeletsi Mbeki was an enthusiastic participant, during the 1970s and `80s, was theorised as "The Articulation of Modes of Production".

In Asia the existing pre-colonial modes of production, adapted to the needs of colonial powers, also articulated with the dominant capitalist economy controlled by the metropole. In India the British authorities suppressed the emergent Indian manufacturing classes, even banning the spinning and weaving of cotton - an indigenous Indian crop - while they encouraged the landlordism of the princes. Gandhi`s adoption of the spinning wheel as the symbol of Indian nationalism has that significance!

Oddly, in discussing the post-colonial elites of two continents Mbeki rather than remarking on the active hostility emergent elites in the colonies encountered from those of the colonial power, concentrates his fire on the victim. British suppression of India`s textile industry in order to corner that market for the mills of Lancashire, has its equivalents in the Cape Colonial Ordinances debarring Africans from prospecting, owning mines or even dealing in minerals; in the Glen Grey Act; in the Natives Land Act of 1913 and other laws deliberately designed to destroy African propertied classes who were potential entrepreneurs.

Some propertied classes in the colonies arrived at independence with wealth accumulated prior to and during colonial domination, placing them in a position to make the transition from intermediary to captain of industry. In South Africa, African propertied classes had to be reinvented after democracy. The South African economy was controlled by capitalist classes drawn from the White minority.

When we get down to cases, the portrait of the Asian elites we have from Moeletsi Mbeki is disturbingly misleading. The `Asian post-colonial elites` he referred to are in fact the elites of about four authoritarian east Asian states. Proceeding from the examples he employs - resistance to Japanese imperialism - one can conclude the states concerned are in east Asia.

Interestingly, this region of Asia was the site of hard-fought wars during the mid 20th century.

As Moeletsi Mbeki correctly reminds us, inspired to take up arms against the axis powers by the Atlantic Charter, Communist- led resistance movements harassed and pinned down thousands of Japanese troops in Malaya; the Philippines; Korea; Vietnam; etc. But as Churchill made clear soon after Stalingrad, the undertakings in the Atlantic Charter applied to Europe only.

After they had fought courageously against the Japanese during World War II, the Communist-led anti-Japanese guerrillas in Malaya, Vietnam and the Philippines were sold out by the colonial powers. To realise the independence that the Atlantic Charter had promised, they transformed themselves into anti-colonialist liberation forces.

In Malaya and the Philippines these guerrilla movements were defeated after a few years of fighting. In Vietnam the guerrilla movement defeated first France`s attempt to restore the colonial order, then the US`s attempt to impose a neo-colonial regime on their country.

Korea, amongst the first victims of Japanese imperialism, in contrast to countries in occupied Europe, was treated like the aggressor after Japan`s surrender. Soviet forces occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel, US forces occupied it to the south. A Soviet sponsored regime, led by former anti-Japanese resistance fighters, was set up in the north. In the south the US sought out and built an administration led by former collaborators who had served Japan.

The elites in these east Asian countries, consequently, are very different.

The US-sponsored elite who drove the industrialisation of South Korea were inspired by both their fear of "Communism" and by their own ambitions. They purchased stability by constructing an authoritarian state very similar to that in the north. In return for palpable economic rewards, the elite surrendered many of its rights to an authoritarian state that took all the major macro-economic decisions.

The Malayan elite secured and has consolidated its power through the affirmative action policies that Mbeki, echoing the hypocrisies of chauvinist men who derided the second wave of feminism as "sexist", describes as "racially discriminatory". In South Korea and Malaysia, the civil liberties South Africans take for granted have long been compromised. Both the South Korean and Malaysian elites owe their power and success to the reverses suffered by the former Anti-Japanese resistance movements.

The other East Asian post-colonial elite, driven by fear of "Communism", is that of Indonesia. After close to a decade of cooperation with the largest Communist Party outside the socialist bloc, led by General Suharto, they orchestrated the massacre of more than a million people in a blood purge of an unprecedented scale. Unlike those of Kampuchea, the killing fields of Indonesia are hardly ever talked about, even in our own media!

The Indonesian elite erected an extremely authoritarian state after that act of repression.

The elite that emerged from successive resistance wars - first against the Japanese, then the French, then the Americans - in Vietnam, is qualitatively different from these others. In addition to their ardent nationalism, the Vietnamese have also nurtured the values of social equality and collectivism. Vietnam was virtually destroyed by US bombing sorties and is being painstakingly rebuilt.

To break out of the mould of the British-created extractive Mineral-Energy Complex the liberation movement adopted the nationalisation of the mines, monopoly industry and the banks amongst its strategic objectives. Inspired a by a vision of removing these vital sectors of the economy from the control of the capitalist classes, the movement wanted the democratic state to acquire control over the commanding heights of the economy in order to restructure it.

The ANC was put on notice by powerful external forces with the capacity to either thwart its objectives or to mobilise against it. A year prior to taking office, those who wield power in the west told Nelson Mandela in no uncertain terms that any actions that threatened property rights would invite their wrath. Translated that means, if the ANC interfered with the property rights of the White minority! After all, Africans had no property rights anywhere in South Africa prior to 1994! A chastened Mandela returned to South Africa from Davos ready to drop the nationalisation of the mines!

Coming to office in 1994, during a decade of capitalist triumphalism the ANC-led government was severely constrained. The economy it inherited was in a parlous state. There was a huge debt owed to international bankers and the economy was in transition from labour to capital intensive. To set it on a firmer footing the ANC-led government was compelled to institute structural adjustment programmes.

Fortunately, these were of its own making, and not imposed by the World Bank. Perhaps the ANC-led government should have taken the risks entailed in ignoring the warnings Mandela was given in Davos. Perhaps it should have hazarded taking on those who control the MEC. But would it have been able to sustain it? On other occasions Moeletsi Mbeki recognises that powerful international interests were involved in negotiating the transition to democracy. So he is very aware of the threats and finger-waqggings the ANC had to endure at a time when it was desperate to restore stability to a country that had been on the brink of war one year before.

Charging that the ANC leadership has learnt nothing from history while not mentioning all these very real constraints and the dangers reckless behaviour might have entailed is just mendacious Yes, the ANC government has thus far failed to sort out the education system. But not even Moeletsi Mbeki could argue that this is due to parsimony! Since 1994 the levels of spending on education have grown exponentially. The intractable character of the problems in education needs other explanations.

The extremely high levels of unemployment were previously disguised by the Native Urban Areas Act and the homelands policy. To keep the wolves from thousands of doors, the democratic state has installed a comprehensive social security system! [Those, like Moeletsi Mbeki, who decry such social grants conveniently forget that prior to 1994 an unemployed African received not a cent in relief, and the law required him/her to leave the urban areas where work could be found.]

Between 1990 and the first democratic elections, the ANC embarked on an intense internal policy debate culminating in the "Ready to Govern" conference. From that process the ANC emerged with two important documents - the first was the MERG Report; the second was the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Though, unlike other card-carrying members of the ANC, Moeletsi Mbeki abstained from participating in these movement processes, he is conversant with both documents. Yet he is silent about both and does not inform us of their fate.

So, has the ANC learnt from the experience of Africa? Perhaps not enough, but to suggest it has learnt nothing, is obvious hyperbole. Moeletsi Mbeki obviously has numerous creative policy suggestions for the ANC and for the country. But he has chosen the easy path of casting well aimed stones at weaknesses he sees in government and the ANC. Engaging constructively is much tougher, but in the end, more rewarding.

Moeletsi Mbeki has not made a case. To pretend that South Africa had no history that shaped and produced an African elite who controlled little other than acquired professional skills is dishonesty that insults our intelligence. No one pretends the ANC-led government could not have done more. But while Moeletsi Mbeki`s vitriol might add heat, it sheds little light on the issues.

Since it has become fashionable to score politicians, political parties and figures like teachers grading their students, perhaps I should join in.

Overall grade??

An incomplete! Stones breaking and shattering panes make a lot of noise. But you end up with a pile of glass shards and splinters. Not the best materials for reconstruction!

--Pallo Jordan is an ANC NEC member

Ottoman (Turkish) imperialism was the other influential power shaping the elites of Asia. But it did not last beyond 1918 and need not detain us here. The other Asian imperialism was that of Japan. Apart from Korea and Taiwan, Japan did not in fact succeed in establishing an Asian empire.

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